Archive | Journos

Happy New Year

Many years ago I lived in Central America . It was a time of civil war. People literally fought and died to win rights Americans took for granted. Fair elections. A functioning and impartial judicial system. Leaders that put the interests of their people above personal avarice. Freedom of expression without fear of government reprisal.

Today, as we bid farewell to an annus horribilis, I want to thank Donald Trump for reminding us of the value of those rights we have squandered for so many years. We neglectfully let them slip – long before Trump launched his campaign. Now, Trump’s assaults on the press, the justice system and our democratic norms have been so blatant, it is arousing the populace from its slumber.

One of the few bright spots of 2017 was the extraordinary level of civic engagement we witnessed. It began with the remarkable million-woman march on Washington. It has continued through sit-ins in the halls of Congress, mobilizations in special elections and an incredible outpouring of first-time candidates for political office. Americans have rediscovered that true democracy is more than a system of elections, it’s an ideal of civic participation.

Thank you, Donald, for the gift of revelation. May it spread far and wide.

Trump and his congressional majorities have shown all Americans – those who voted for them and those who did not – their true nature. Yes, some continue to discount what lies before their eyes. Yet every day the consequences become manifest and the blinders weigh more heavily. Actions speak louder than words.

The price of this gift is indeed dear. Anything of real value usually is. We can reckon the pain and suffering the rest of the year. Not today.

At the end of 2017, my thoughts go to Molly Ivins, my former boss and friend. Though she left us more than a decade ago, Molly has been on my mind often of late. We need her spirit more than ever.

For me, she gets the final word.

So keep fightin’ for freedom and justice, beloveds, but don’t you forget to have fun doin’ it. Lord, let your laughter ring forth. Be outrageous, ridicule the fraidy-cats, rejoice in all the oddities that freedom can produce. And when you get through kickin’ ass and celebratin’ the sheer joy of a good fight, be sure to tell those who come after how much fun it was.

Iceland Censors Glitnir Leak

Iceland has long boasted a progressive reputation. Outside the country, it’s seen as a beacon of freedom, tolerance and civic engagement. There is plenty of truth to this view.

Julian Assange helped craft Iceland’s media laws in 2010, and housed his organization’s payment system in Reykjavik. When the FBI arrived to investigate Wikileaks, Iceland’s interior minister ordered police not to cooperate.

After the 2008 financial crisis, Icelanders took to the streets in what became known as the pots and pans revolution. The government launched an investigation into the collapse of the country’s banks. It appointed a special prosecutor. More than twenty people including bankers were jailed for their actions. Granted prison in Iceland is cushy but the country did far more to prosecute financial crisis wrongdoing than the United States.

When Icelandic journalist Jóhannes Kr. Kristjánsson and a team from Swedish Public Broadcasting exposed Prime Minister Sigmundur Gunnlaugsson’s secret offshore company in the Panama Papers, Icelanders rallied once again. The people drove Gunnlaugsson from office.

However, recent events have tarnished Iceland’s image.

Last month, the Guardian, the Icelandic newspaper Stundin and Kristjánsson’s Reykjavik Media published an exposé based on leaked documents. Their story showed Prime Minister Bjarni Benediktsson, while a member of parliament in 2008, cashed out his assets in Glitnir bank right before the government took it over and imposed losses on those left behind. Benediktsson comes from a well-connected wealthy family in Iceland. He claims that he had no inside knowledge about the bank closure.

After the first story was published, the Reykjavik District Commission, at the request of the bankruptcy estate of Glitnir, put a gag order on Stundin and Reykjavik media prohibiting them from more news coverage based on the leak. Future stories were likely curtailed. In protest, Stundin published a front page that was blacked out. Icelandic journalism organizations protested. The gag remained nonetheless.

A court date for a judge to review the order is scheduled for January 6.

Still, the damage had been done. Benediktsson was up for election at the end of October. While it may not have changed the outcome, Icelandic voters were deprived of a full airing of information that could have informed their trip to the polls. Press freedom suffered a blow in an unlikely place. Benediktsson’s party won the largest share of seats.

In another surprise from the election, Gunnlaugsson came back from the dead. His new Centre Party received nearly 11 percent of the vote.